Preview and Chat: The Houston Rockets

Darius Soriano —  December 1, 2010

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Records: Lakers 13-5 (4th in the West), Rockets 5-12 (12th in the West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 115.2 (1st in NBA), Rockets 107.3 (13th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.2 (11th in NBA), Rockets 110.1 (25th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers:Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Rockets: Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes
Injuries: Lakers: Andrew Bynum (out), Theo Ratliff (out); Rockets: Yao Ming (out), Aaron Brooks (out)

On Kobe, Pau, Shooting, and Offensive Effectiveness:  A lot has been said lately about Kobe’s volume shooting and whether or not his hyper aggressive approach in recent games has been the downfall of the Lakers execution.  Essentially, Kobe’s been shooting a lot of late and folks wonder if that’s why the offense is being bogged down and if he just needs to pass more for everything to look better on that side of the ball.  Really, there’s no easy answer here as it’s a bit of a chicken vs. the egg argument.  Is Kobe taking more shots because he’s taking it upon himself to do more or is he doing more because the offense, in general, is not as effective and he’s the guy that’s now needed to pick up the slack?  Phil Jackson had some choice quotes on the matter, so I’ll defer to him here (thanks to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angelels for these):

We’re talking about playing in our system a little bit more.  We played a lot of individual basketball … That’s OK when Kobe’s going great or Pau’s going good or things are happening well for us in the open floor and we’re running well but our transition balance isn’t there. Offensive rebounding isn’t there. Those things that are created by playing basketball in a system in which we practice and teach are missing and so when nights are tough and the ball doesn’t go in and we’re not getting back on defense well enough, if you don’t play in the system it creates an even bigger problem and then you’re susceptible.

More from Phil on Kobe specifically:

I think [Bryant] felt like he had to carry a little bit of the load.  Kobe’s going to come out there and attack if no one else is aggressive enough. He’s going to test the defense and the other guys are going to have to step in. I always say if you feed him the ball you’re responsible for a lot of what’s going on. You have to go away from him early and then come back to him late a lot of times, instead of going to him early and expecting it to come out before he’s going to attack out there. That’s part of our plan and he’s going to take advantage of that if his teammates give him the ball.

So, again, it’s a bit more complex than just Kobe going into gunner mode.  Surely that’s some of it, but it’s not all of it.  The Lakers need to get back to the basics of running their sets and doing more to get Gasol going rather than just dumping the ball into him and expecting him to score in one on one situations.  Because as Archon noted in the comments:

I think were seeing a paradigm shift on the way teams are playing the Lakers now. For years it was, “let’s make life as difficult as possible for Kobe and let everyone else beat us”. I think Pau Gasol was playing so well and the Lakers offense was so effective I think teams are using the, “Let’s make life as difficult as possible for Gasol and let everyone else beat us”. It seems like teams are shifting their defense around Gasol, crowding him, banging him and taking him off his spots.

And since this is indeed the case, running more screen actions for Pau and getting him to get his catches on the move could certainly make his life easier.  Understand, there are ways to help Gasol within the context of the offense and the Lakers would be best served by executing better in order to make it happen.

The Rockets Coming in:  Coming into this year I was high on the Rockets.  I thought they’d contend for a top 4 seed and battle for their division crown. Was I completely wrong or just a bit misguided?  It seems a little of both.

For one, I thought the Rockets would be seamless in their integration of Yao and that he could stay reasonably healthy (65+ games) this season.  Both of those assertions ended up being false as the Rockets’ minutes cap on Yao created a situation where neither he nor his teammates ever got comfortable playing with each other.  And with him now out injured with a lower leg issue, the Rockets are once again without their franchise cornerstone.  The injuries haven’t stopped there though.  Aaron Brooks has also missed the Rockets last 12 games with a badly sprained ankle and that’s surely contributed to the Rockets poor play this year.

Where the Rockets have really fallen off, though, is on the defensive end.  Once one of the better defensive teams in the league, the Rockets now sit 25th in defensive efficiency and when that’s the case it will be tough to win games without an otherworldly offense.  Well, considering that the Rockets don’t have a reliable post threat, don’t have their primary offensive initiator, and are now dependent on jumpshots to score points that’s just not the case.  So, the Rockets sit 7 games under .500 and I look like the guy that couldn’t predict a rainstorm when there’s water falling on my head.  Such is this game.

Rockets Blogs: Visit Red 94 for all your Rockets needs.  There’s really good work over at that site.

Keys to game:  I could bombard you with all the little things that the Lakers need to do to win this game, but in the end I’m just looking for strong execution on both sides of the ball in order to get back on track.  That means good hard screens and cuts on offense and disciplined defense where shooters are ran off the three point line and defensive integrity is kept on the wings.  So, I’d like to see less overplays by the Lakers wing defenders and the Lakers bigs active and ready to help if Kobe, Artest, and co. do get beat on the Rockets back door cuts.

Offensively, the Lakers need to be patient and try to move the ball better than they have in the past several games.  The Rockets don’t have the size to really contest the Lakers interior play so they’ll scheme to try and make post entries harder and deny wing entries when possible.  That means the Lakers must be ready to flash from the weak side and play more high low than they have in the last couple of weeks.  If Pau is being fronted and Odom is on the weak side, Kobe/Fisher/Artest need to actively look for Odom to flash to the FT line so that LO can either make a move for himself or throw the lob to Gasol.

Also, on a general note the Lakers are obviously frustrated and have been pressing some lately.  Everyone can see that this team is not playing its best basketball and it’s leading to the players trying to do a bit too much rather than letting the system work for them.  I understand it’s easier said than done, but the Lakers are champions and they need to play with the poise of a team that’s been there before.  Not every night will be easy (as we’ve seen) but they can make their lives easier by remembering the small things that have aided their success in the past.  Make the extra pass. Trust eachother and do the job that’s assigned to you.  By staying within the framework of the offensive and defensive systems the team will get back on track.  But if they try to force the issue, the hole will only get bigger.  Now, let’s get this win as a 4 game losing streak isn’t what anyone wants…

Where you can watch: 5:30pm start time out west on KCAL.  Also listen on ESPN Radio 710am.


Darius Soriano

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